Throughout the band’s existence, Devo has been inextricably tied to the visual component of performance. From its beginning as a six-piece artistic entity at Kent State in the early ’70s, the band has concerned itself with video, technology, and the points where art, pop culture, and rock & roll meet as much as anything else. By their own admission, it was a video project that reignited the band just as they were about to hang it up after several years of spinning their wheels in Akron. The Truth About De-Evolution, directed by Kent classmate Chuck Statler, was filmed in 1976 and featured the songs “Secret Agent Man” and “Jocko Homo.” Statler, in fact, intended the film for laserdisc, which was still in its infancy but seemed the perfect vehicle for a music-driven project, given the quality of its audio.
It is that film (which won first prize at the Ann Arbor Film Festival in 1977) that gives this DVD its name: The Complete Truth About De-Evolution (MVD). Originally released, ironically enough, on laserdisc in 1993, this is the second DVD reissue, the first being Rhino’s edition from 2003. In addition to its namesake, it collects nearly all of Devo’s music videos, which can be watched with or without commentary from Devo principles Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerard Casale. It also includes the “Theme from Doctor Detroit” clip, which was not on the laserdisc, but was on the Rhino DVD. And like the Rhino DVD, it doesn’t include the “Are You Experienced?” clip that was on the laserdisc, although it does have a test card directing viewers to watch it online. Where this edition differs from Rhino’s is that includes an absolutely riveting version of “Gates of Steel” from the band’s Freedom of Choice tour that originally appeared on the Live 1980 DVD, as well as a couple more recent post-reunion live performances.
But really what is most important about this DVD is simply that it is back in circulation. It is enlightening to listen to the commentary track as Casale and Mothersbaugh reveal the inspiration and motivation behind each video. For example, the videos from the Oh, No! It’s Devo album (“Time Out for Fun,” “Peek-a-Boo,” and “That’s Good”) were meant to tie into the visual components of the band’s live show, and Casale explains that they actually embedded cues for the visuals into the album recording in order to enact them in concert. (That tour included a 3D show that was broadcast live and subsequently on Pay-Per-View.) That the band was featured in a full-length film produced by Neil Young and were also one of the first acts to use blue screen in producing their videos, only further proves Devo place as video pioneers. (It’s not so surprising then that Mothersbaugh went on to works on the soundtracks for movies and television.) That Devo so cogently tied together kitsch, Dadaist references, pop culture allusions, cutting edge technology, and their uniquely critical worldview only makes this volume more startlingly revelatory. There’s also a good deal of humor, albeit largely black humor, so enjoying it on a surface level isn’t out of the question. To say Devo was ahead of its time is a lacking understatement. It’s probably more realistic that everyone else has simply been light years behind and may never catch up.